A little bitter in Las Vegas.

I have always loved Italian amari (plural of amaro), lovely bitter, sometimes sweet, other time savory, digestives.  There’s something refreshing about a little blast of herbal infusion on your palate, especially after a long day of wine tasting.  One of my favorites, Amaro Montenegro, is a classic- a liqueur of sorts obtained by the infusion of herbs originating from all over the world in alcohol. It was first produced in 1885 in Bologna following extensive experiments performed by the famous Italian spirits manufacturer Stanislao Cobianchi.

Montenegro’s name comes as an homage to the second queen of Italy, Princess Helen of Montenegro, on occasion of her marriage to Victor Emmanuel III, the Italian sovereign at that time.  It is a deeply flavored, complex and herbal amaro, perfect as a pre-meal aperitif, or to close a meal and clean the palate.  Everybody’s liquor cabinet should contain a bottle- it lasts forever, is delicious on its own and is versatile as an addition to other mixed drinks.

Recently I discovered a new use for one of may favorite amari, the Amaro Montenegro, in Las Vegas’ CARNEVINO.

The concoction above was a suggestion of my favorite Italian Wine Geek, Mike Tadich.  It includes Amaro Montenegro, Ginger Ale and lemon- an inspired combination- this was the perfect ending to our day in the hot, dusty desert.  Expertly prepared by CARNEVINO’s charming bar man, David Cooper, it was a glass of pure refreshment.  Delicately perfumed by the Amaro Montenegro and balanced by the lemon’s sunny acidity, this is one simple combination I will be sure to revisit regularly.

The next day we returned to CARNEVINO, where David was joined behind the bar by the captivating Milan “Miki” Nikolic.  I ordered the same ginger/ amaro combination, telling Miki how much I had enjoyed David’s drink. Luckily for me, Miki took this as a challenge of sorts and proceeded to mix one of the most interesting and refreshing beverages I have ever tasted.

The glass he set in front of me looked simple at first glance.  It was amber, slightly cloudy and perfumed by orange and an intriguing menthol undertone.  The the flavor profile was truly incredible- delicate and complex at the same time- all orange flower water, subtle sweetness and just the perfect amount of bitter.  He confessed it was his own creation, a perfect mingling of Fernet Branca (another lovely amaro) fresh orange juice, Cointreau and vodka.  Dangerously seductive, this is the kind of beverage that is so perfectly balanced you would have no idea how much alcohol you were consuming.  One of my colleagues remarked that it “gives a whole new meaning to slipping somebody a “Miki”…” I agree- but in the best way possible!

The next time you find yourself in a place like CARNEVINO, in the capable hands of experienced Bar Professionals like David Cooper and Miki Nikolic, ask them to create something exciting for you- the let them do what they do best.  You won’t be disappointed.